What are the filing requirements for provisional patent applications?

Filing a provisional patent application requires fewer technical specifications than a full patent application. The main three elements of a provisional patent application are:

  1. A written description of the invention
  2. Any necessary drawings
  3. The U.S. Patent Office filing fee

Unlike a full patent application, a provisional patent application does not need a detailed discussion of the prior art, the objectives and advantages of the invention, and alternative embodiments of the invention. In addition, a provisional patent application does not require the inclusion of any claims. Drafting claims is often the most difficult part of completing a full patent application because the precise wording of claims determines the invention's scope of protection.

Description of the Invention

In a provisional patent application, the description may be written generally and in layman terms (unless more technical terminology is required to understand the invention). Although the written description can be informal, the U.S. Patent Office requires that it adequately describe the full scope of the subject matter you wish to claim as your invention. It must also be written in full, clear and concise terms so that any person skilled in the art or field of the invention could make and use your invention.

This section must also include a brief description of each illustration included with your application. In addition, somewhere in the description, you must state the best mode contemplated for carrying out the invention. In many cases, an inventor may have already written a narrative that includes most or all of this information in the course of researching and developing the invention.

Typical elements of a provisional patent application's written description include the following:

  1. Title of the invention
  2. Purposes of the invention
  3. Description of drawings
  4. Components or steps of the invention
  5. How these components interact or how the steps are carried out
  6. How one uses the invention to cause it to work
  7. Best mode of the invention

As an option, a provisional patent’s written description could include the following two elements:

  1. Advantages of the invention
  2. Alternative ways for the invention to achieve its results


Any patent application, including a provisional patent, must be filed in the name of all the inventor(s) involved, even if the invention belongs to someone else. Note that at least one inventor must be shared in common between a provisional application and a full patent application in order for the latter application to relate back to the earlier filing date.

Any person whose contribution is used in any way in the invention is considered to be a co-inventor. For example, a person who added the springing device onto the stapler would be considered a co-inventor of the stapler.

Drawing(s) of the Invention

The reason for requiring drawings in a provisional patent application is the same as that for a full patent application: to help others understand your invention. In rare cases, a written description alone will suffice, but the U.S. Patent Office strongly recommends including illustrations of your invention for purposes of clarity. As we will discuss later, this is especially important if you plan to later file for a full patent. At that time, a U.S. Patent Officer will closely examine the subject matter contained in the provisional patent application (including any drawings) to see if it adequately corresponds to the subject matter of the full patent application.

The U.S. Patent Office suggests the following six optional formats for illustrations that accompany a provisional patent application:

  1. any view (e.g. top, side, disassembled, exploded, perspective)
  2. labeling numbers (e.g. sheet, figure, reference)
  3. schematics or flowcharts
  4. dashed lines or straight lines
  5. black and white or color photographs
  6. computer-generated or handmade drawings

If you don't have professional illustrations of your invention, don't worry. InventionPatenting.com can help prepare them for you.

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